By Antigoni Zachari / [email protected]
Good basketball always starts with a good defense. That’s a staple in coaching tactics and there’s one team in the 7DAYS EuroCup that appears to have mastered the art this season. Joventut Badalona has transformed into a defensive juggernaut with no signs of slowing down. The Group A co-leaders are playing the best basketball this storied club has displayed in many years.
Through the first eight rounds of the season, Joventut has allowed 68.8 points per game to its opponents, which places it atop the charts for the best offense/defense combo in the EuroCup this season with 0.16 points per possession margin, per Synergy Sports.
It’s not often that we see a team giving up less than 70 points per game. Only UNICS Kazan has allowed fewer than Joventut’s current average; it held opponents to 65.9 points per game back in the 2013-14 season. It gets even more impressive since Joventut now has nearly a 5-point difference from the second-best defense – Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana with 73.5 points allowed per game. Joventut has had to come a long way to overcome its defensive struggles.
From the start of this season, Coach Carles Duran’s men showed they mean business. They allowed only 56 points in the first two games against Dolomiti Energia Trento and Hamburg Towers and then fell to Partizan 68-67. So far, only Lietkabelis has been able to put up more than 80 points against them in their eventful meeting in Panevezys in Round 6, which ended in a win for the home team.
Just by looking at this season’s margins, a change is noticeable in Joventut’s game style compared to the previous season when the team gave up 82.2 points while scoring 85.3 across 18 games.
Going back to the 2019-20 campaign, which came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the difference is even more staggering. La Penya allowed the most points with 85.1 per game – almost 20 points more than its average for the current season! Despite scoring a competition-best 85.4 points that season, defense was a major issue on that squad.
In hindsight, this difference is shocking, especially considering that Joventut has kept a steady core over the last two or three years. Coach Duran and homegrown talents Joel Parra, Arturs Zagars, Simon Birgander, Pep Busquets, Arnau Parrado have been constants across that timeline. To an extent, this change in defensive mindset can be put down to the outcome of Duran’s work with his youngsters, who actively contribute consistently for Joventut. In this squad, there are no “garbage” minutes.
With those talents blossoming in the organization and a few key additions over the summer, including Brandon Paul, Guillen Vives, Andres Feliz, Miguel Allen and Derek Willis, Joventut has presented a completely different picture this season.
La Penya currently dominates the defensive glass with a EuroCup-best 27.9 per game. It should come as no surprise to see five Joventut players in the top 50 in this stat. Ante Tomic leads the way in 10th place with 33 defensive rebounds (4.3 per game), the 21-year-old Parra has 28 of his own and Willis has 24.
Forwards Vladimir Brodziansky and Birgander complete Joventut’s presence in the top 50, while at the same time they work together to allow limited access to Joventut’s basket – tied for second and seventh, respectively, in blocks. The former has blocked 1.3 shots per game and the latter 1.0 per game. It has been quite the upgrade for Joventut, which ranks fourth in blocks (3.5 per game). At the same point in the season, it had 2.3 per game last year.
What’s really significant though is that Joventut is not burdened by its elite defense on the other end of the floor. It has scored 80.3 points per game, ranking in the middle of the pack of EuroCup teams this season. Joventut has shown that it can keep teams like Hamburg (third in points scored) and Partizan (seventh) at bay and impose its pace of play.
A major test awaits Coach Duran’s men in Round 9 when they face the best offensive team this season, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, in a fight for the top spot in Group A.
Photo credit: ACB Photo / M. Pozo
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